Novels featuring abusive men are painful to get through, but there is something to be said for reading them.
When treated fictionally, one sees the horrible abuse problem on a visceral, dramatic level — whether the problem is physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, or all three. We might see why it happens (though there’s never a legitimate excuse), how the victim is affected, whether the legal system gets involved, and more. And if the abuser gets his comeuppance, that can be very satisfying.
Heck, fictional abusers get that comeuppance more often than real-life abusers (though not always). After all, some novels are partly vehicles for wish fulfillment.
This is a topic I have some personal experience with, given that my late father unfortunately was often verbally abusive and sometimes physically abusive. So I bring those memories into the reading of certain novels, as do many other people with their own painful memories.
Last week I finished Amanda Moores’ Dream Palace, and central to that 1994 novel is a young woman who becomes infatuated with a macho, handsome, charismatic diver (when he works). Though the warning signs of abuse are there (as is often the case) and Laurie barely knows Jim, she impulsively agrees to his offer of marriage.
Then the verbal harassment and physical blows begin, along with ultra-controlling behavior. How the initially meek Laurie finds some backbone to deal with all that is a major focus of the eloquently written book by Ms. Moores, who happens to be the wife of this blog’s regular commenter jhNY.
(Some of you may recall a 2015 post in which I discussed Ms. Moores’ later fictional work, the emotionally riveting Grail Nights, which focuses on a New Orleans bartender named Sheila who has a small role in Dream Palace.)
Another compelling novel featuring domestic violence is Stephen King’s Rose Madder — in which low-life abuser Norman is scarily a police officer. The oft-beaten Rose Daniels escapes the house and boards a bus to a new place — after which husband Norman seeks her out. Will Rose fight back? You’ll see if she does as the novel turns into a mix of realism and the supernatural.
The Jack Reacher character is a human fighting machine but also feminist in his way, so it’s no surprise that some of Lee Child’s novels — including Echo Burning and Worth Dying For — include vile abusive men who draw Reacher’s wrath. Readers will cheer when Jack socks the (rich) abuser in the latter book.
Buchi Emecheta’s novel Second Class Citizen stars Adah, who maintains her ambition and resilience despite various obstacles that include being physically abused by a husband who also cheats on her.
In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Celie is abused by her father — a parental outrage that probably also happens to the Mayella character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
And Margaret Atwood’s iconic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale — now a TV phenomenon — is of course about domestic violence writ large as women are denied their rights and the fertile ones are forced to bear children.
Here’s a list of many other fiction books that apparently contain domestic-violence content.
What are the some of the most memorable novels you’ve read on this topic?
My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be bought here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which has a Harry Potter theme! — is here.